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Kandiyohi County approves funding to combat zebra mussels

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners approved funding Tuesday for several projects designed to combat aquatic invasive species, including a $3,000 grant to help hire a lobbyist to get legislation to stop zebra mussels.

The legislation includes containment of contaminated lakes.

The grant was one of five proposals approved to receive funding for water-improvement projects.

But one proposal, which would have paid overtime for county deputies to patrol boat accesses looking for violations of state regulations on aquatic invasive species, was denied.

The commissioners took the action based on the recommendations of the county's water planning task force, even though some of the commissioners disagreed with that committee's denial of funds for patrolling lake accesses.

The commissioners traditionally vote for the recommendations of the task force, which meets quarterly to hear requests for funding.

The Kandiyohi County Lakes Association had requested $3,000 to pay for deputies to monitor lake accesses and ticket boaters who violate state laws -- violations that could lead to the spread of invasive species.

Because the deputies would be working overtime hours at a higher rate of pay, the task force was reportedly concerned about spending so much money and getting limited hours of service.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said the county has a "short window of time" to promote awareness and prevention of aquatic invasive species, and the county could be left to wonder if it did everything possible to protect lakes.

"It's a tough question," Kleindl said.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen, who said he was the only task force member to vote against nixing the funding, said he was still reluctant to vote against the task force's recommendation.

County Attorney Jenna Fischer said perhaps volunteers could be recruited to do the job, or law enforcement students from Ridgewater College could be hired at a less expensive rate than a deputy.

Commissioner Dennis Peterson said volunteers were used last year with limited success because they had no authority to fine violators.

Madsen said there's "nothing like a hefty fine" to get the attention of people.

The task force also recommended using $2,000 to fund extra postage the county incurred when it sent a brochure on zebra mussels with property tax statements.

That brochure has generated great awareness of the problem and the need for preventative action, said Commissioner Dennis Peterson.

Based on the recommendation by the task force, the commissioners also approved a $3,000 grant to an individual to conduct a pilot project to present materials about aquatic invasive species to organizations and school-aged children.

The commissioners were less than enthusiastic about that proposal, but approved it nonetheless.

Every year the county receives a block grant from the Department of Natural Resources to help fund water-related projects. The state funds are matched with county money and the grants are usually matched by the organization or individual making the request.

The task force recommendations need final approval of the County Board before funds are awarded.

The county received $11,000 in state funds this year, said Jeff Bredberg, director of Environmental Services.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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